This is part two of a three-part series on how to uncover, nurture, and live out your unique strengths, or gifts*. Click here for part one: How to Begin Uncovering your Gifts. Enjoy!
Let's say you've read part one of this series, you've spent some time thinking about and reflecting on what your gifts might be, and you're excited for the next step. You giddily sit down to list all of them one by one, create a spreadsheet that outlines how each gift will apply to your desired career path, and prepare a Powerpoint presentation on how those gifts will launch you into the C-suite.
Nope. Not gonna work. Trust me - I've tried.
When we talk about our innate gifts, we're talking about something deep within us that, in many ways, is unknowable. Some people call this part of us the "soul," or our "primordial consciousness." It's the part of us that knows what we need at the deepest level, the part of us that feels connected to something bigger and more meaningful.
And that part of us won't fit into a spreadsheet. Or a Powerpoint presentation.
Many of us try to use the skills we've learned in school or the workplace - analysis, linear thinking, structured arguments - to understand the part of us that is vast and fluid and unknown. The brilliant poet, John O'Donohue, writes in his book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom that "Modern consciousness is similar to the harsh and brilliant white light of a hospital operating theater. This neon light is too direct and clear to befriend the shadowed world of the soul. It is not hospitable to what is reserved and hidden [emphasis added]."
There's a point in our journey when we have to keep our gifts secret so that they can grow in peace.
There's a point when we're not sure what our soul wants to bring forth into this world, but we see glimpses of it. We may have an idea of what our contribution to the world will be, but we'll scare it off if we try to apply our "neon" analysis to it like we would a decision about a job offer or which used car to buy. You might have loved your Lincoln Log set as a kid and have an inkling that woodworking is one of your gifts, and at this point, just let that dream grow within you. Imagine the kind of wood you'd use and what you would create. Our gifts need time to incubate within us - time to grow without the pressure of needing to show us exactly how we'll use them in the world.
During this beautiful and quiet time there are six things we can do to help them come to life:
First, we have to accept them for whatever they are. Since I was a teenager, I've wanted to be one of those super cool, laid back girls who didn't care if she was on time or not. I've wanted to be more "artsy," more "airy," and less worried about how everything is going to work. Part of me truly does want to loosen up a bit, but part of me is just fighting my true nature: I'm kind of a worrier, I like to be on time, and I need to talk about how things are actually going to work. It's a daily practice, but I'm slowly learning to accept the part of me that is structured, grounded, and critical. Even though they don't seem as "cool," those are gifts, and they're a part of me. I would encourage you to do the same: accept whatever strengths are there within you, even if you don't really like them yet.
Second, cultivate silence and stillness in your life. I've said it before and I'll say it again: you cannot know what's growing within you unless you cultivate silence and stillness in your life. Even if it's five minutes of silence on your drive home one day or five minutes of silence before you turn the t.v. on - start somewhere. Please, please, please - I promise this works, and it's so needed in our modern culture.
Third, don't try to analyze them - yet. Remember that this part of the journey is all about incubation and nurturing. A pregnant couple doesn't know yet what their child will be like, where she'll go to school, or what she'll do for work - their job as parents right now is to create a rich, nourishing environment where life can grow. It's the same thing with our gifts - do them a favor and just let them be for now.
Fourth, reflect...softly. Even though you're not going to analyze or try to deconstruct your gifts right now, you may benefit from reflecting on how your gifts might take shape. You can just ponder simple questions like "What did I enjoy doing as a child?" or "What do I enjoy most at work right now?"
Fifth, stay curious. Finding and growing our gifts require that we stay open and curious about them. Through this process, you might be surprised about what comes up. Maybe you never considered using that Economics degree, but it turns out you do actually love working with numbers. Maybe you haven't admitted to yourself that you want to be a photographer, but those are the images that keep showing up in your dreams.
Finally, trust that this is going to happen. Try not to worry that you'll never find your gifts, that you'll never connect with your soul's work, or that you'll never have a career that you love. Imagine sweeping up all of those worries and fears and tossing them in the garbage. Imagine shooing them out the window. You've wasted enough mental and emotional energy on them for now. As much as you can, remember the truth in Rumi's words:
Ready for more? Check out How to Live in Alignment with Your Gifts
*If this topic resonates with you and you're in the Portland area, you might check out a workshop that I'm co-facilitating in February called The Career Jumpstart Workshop. In it, we'll be exploring this topic in much more detail.